Today, I'm excited to premiere the first piece in an interview series I'm calling Album By Album that I've been wanting to do for a while on No Echo. Quite simply, I'll be chatting with musicians and going down their discography to get their thoughts on each of their LPs.
For the first installment of Album By Album, I spoke with All Out War vocalist Mike Score to examine the influential metallic hardcore band's six studio full-lengths.
I guess we can’t give this piece a truly solid start without mentioning the Sum of All Fears and self-titled cassettes All Out War released in 1992 and 1993, respectively. At time of their release, I was heavily into death metal and remember the cassettes going around in those circles as well.
The Sum of All Fears demo was the only one of the three that we officially put out in 1992. One of the other two was some songs we recorded, but we hated the way it came out. I believe the other tape that was out was either the Destined to Burn 7" or the [1994 compilation] Philly Dust Crew tracks. Originally, both of those were just passed out to friends and made the rounds during the tape trading days. I always really liked the Sum of All Fears demo. Two of those songs, "Fall from Grace"and "Day of Judgement," were written when Karate Chris was still in Merauder, so they have that old Merauder vibe to them. "Destined to Burn" was written when our original drummer, Tom, recruited me to play in his old band A.W.O.L., which was an old Newburgh band that played the Anthrax club a few times and was a much more hardcore-sounding band until I corrupted them [laughs].
AOW played a lot of mixed bills of hardcore and death metal back then. Tom and I put this huge mailing list together during this period. We mailed the Sum of All Fears demo to everyone on it whether they wanted it or not. We also went to just about every hardcore and metal show in the Tri-state area and passed them out for free. I was big into tape trading back then because I was always looking for bands like us. Back then there were very few bands trying to mix hardcore, death metal, and thrash, so we were constantly looking for bands who were doing similar things as we were. We didn't fit in anywhere, so we were constantly looking for other misfits.
Truth in the Age of Lies (1997)
Since we’re sticking with the studio albums, let’s just get to Truth in the Age of Lies. It was released in 1997 by Gain Ground, a German label. How did that deal come together and why did you decide to go with a European label over an American one? With the distance, was it tough coordinating everything?
If my memory is right I think that came about when Sean Dixon roadied for Merauder on their first European tour. He met Tobias, who was doing Gain Ground, and introduced us. I'm pretty sure the original intention was to put the record out with Too Damn Hype here in the states, but somehow we ended up working with Gain Ground. We got our first European tour out of it and it all seemed to work out at the time. The tour ended up being with Congress from Belgium. It was a great run and I'm happy to say we are still in touch with some of those guys today. I have no idea what happened to Tobias or Gain Ground after the tour.
I listened to Truth in the Age of Lies for the first time in years today in preparation for this and I was reminded on how much I loved the album at the time. What are your thoughts on that one all these years later?
I still love the record. It's probably always easier writing the first album. You just put the riffs together and go for it. There is no worrying about whether you did that riff before because everything is new. It was a great time to be in AOW. We all had a lot of fun writing those songs.
Were you happy with the way Gain Ground handled the release/marketing/distro of the album?
Not at all. There was very little contact between the band and the label once he got the recordings and the layout. The album was released in Japan without the band ever knowing. I saw the Japanese version for the first time ever this past week when we were in Japan for Bloodaxe Fest.
What’s your favorite song from Truth in the Age of Lies?
"Day of Judgement" or "Fall from Grace," mostly because of their early Merauder feel. Those original Merauder songs like "Extreme Fallacy" and "Shot Dead" are so awesome. I just wish they got a proper recording.
For Those Who Were Crucified (1998)
That brings us to For Those Who Were Crucified, what many fans of All Out War consider the band’s finest moment. Before we get into the actual record, give me a bit of background on how the deal with Victory Records was struck. I’ve said this before on the site, but people give that label and its owner, Tony Brummel, a lot of shit, but for most of the ‘90s, it was the place to be for bands in the hardcore world.
We first met the guys from Victory on a tour we did in the summer of 1997. One of the stops was the basement of the store Tony owned, Bulldog Records. We met Clint Billington (Organized Crime) who worked for Victory and hit it off with him right away. He is a great guy, who coincidentally put out Dying Gods and Give Us Extinction. This was a few months before Truth in the Age of Lies came out. We gave them a copy of the record and a few weeks later got a call to check our interest in doing a record with them. There were other offers in the works, but Victory seemed to make sense at the time. Some of our friends had already signed to Victory, we were playing with a lot of Victory bands, and they seemed to be the place to be for metallic-sounding hardcore bands.
Steve Evetts was behind the board for For Those Who Were Crucified, and though he’s gone on to become known in his own right, the album was done at a time when he was mostly recognized for his work with hardcore and underground metal bands. What was it like working with him and was he brought in by Victory Records?
Steve Evetts was brought in by Victory. Steve was relatively unknown to us at the time. We knew he did the Hatebreed record and we loved the way that came out so we were excited to work with him. The first thing I remember Steve saying to us was, "You guys are totally going to hate me, but your going to be happy with record once it's done." He was right. It was a grueling experience, but we loved the way the record came out. Steve is a great guy and we remain friends to this day, but he is a task master in the studio. Steve knows how to get the best out of people. I would recommend recording with him to any band.
Do you remember what the reaction was like to the album once it hit stores? Did you find that you brought in a lot of new fans through both the album and having the Victory Records machine behind it?
I think the reaction to the record was mixed. Much like the reaction to AOW has always been mixed. We have never fit in with any scene and the Victory Records scene was no exception. We were much more straightforward metal than that crowd was use to, we were abrasive, and we were definitely not straight edge. Victory never really knew what to do with us and we had a falling out almost immediately after the record came out. In hindsight we were probably part of the problem, but I never really thought Victory got behind the band at all.
What’s your favorite song on For Those Who Were Crucified?
"Claim Your Innocence"
Condemned to Suffer (2003)
There were some membership changes between For Those Who Were Crucified and All Out War’s next album, 2003's Condemned to Suffer. Was that a matter of people quitting the band because they couldn’t or didn’t want to tour? Also, how did the changes inform the songwriting on the Condemned to Suffer material?
The Condemned to Suffer lineup was actually the AOW lineup that was together right when For Those Who Were Crucified came out. It's also the current AOW lineup. We got back together with that line up in 2002 to play a memorial show for Frank Collins from Confusion at CBGB. The show was a lot of fun and it was awesome to play with bands like Darkside NYC, Kickback, and Confusion again. Since we were already tied to a label we decided to keep it going and write another album.
The cover art for Condemned to Suffer was done by Dave Quiggle, an artist and musician who is known for his work in the Christian hardcore and metal scenes. You’ve worked with him on more than one occasion, but how did you guys come to collaborate with him and has he had any issues with All Out War’s lyrical outlook? I mean, from where I’m standing, you guys definitely aren’t going to be recording for Tooth & Nail any time soon!
That is true. AOW is no friend of the Christian Right. Clint from Victory was friends with Dave and recruited him to do the art. Dave was fine with working with us on Condemned to Suffer, but became increasingly more uncomfortable as the lyrics got a bit more extreme.
What’s your favorite song on Condemned to Suffer?
"Condemned to Suffer"
Assassins in the House of God (2007)
About a year after Condemned to Suffer came out, you and the band parted ways for a bit. What’s the story behind that and what brought you back into the fold?
I just couldn't do it at that point. My teaching career had just started and everything was coming down on top of me. I have a problem with anxiety as it is and being in a band just multiplies it. The band and I had a falling out and the whole thing just collapsed for a bit. I'm happy to say we all made amends and are all great friends again.
Assassins In the House of God starts off with an ominous movie sample. Where did you get that from? It’s a perfect way to kick off that record.
I believe that came from The Exorcist III, which is such an underrated movie. It's one of my favorites.
It felt like the thrash factor of the All Out War sound was amped up on this record. What’s your assessment on that?
It definitely was heavily thrashed based. Kreator and early Sodom were on heavy rotation at my house during the writing of this record. My favorite release during this era was the Kreator Enemy of God album. That record is fantastic. Still love it!
The lyrics on Assassins In the House of God are fucking hard! “Behind the Crescent and the Cross” and “Glorified in Deceit” are personal favorites in the AOW lyrics department. How much of your lyrics are directly inspired by religious texts, and were you raised in a strict Christian household?
Not really at all, but I was forced to go to Church. My parents dropped us off and picked us up until I was about 14. They never went. Making us go was just keeping up appearances. I noticed the hypocrisy right away. The one thing organized religion taught me was how much darkness there is in the light. Organized religion is painted by its practitioners as this joyous warm experience. From a really young age I found it cold and very impersonal. The originators of the control through fear mentality. Lyrically, I have always used a lot of religious symbolism from the big three monotheistic faiths and their texts. I have no love for any organized religion, but I'm not an atheist. I believe in a high power, some sort of spiritual force, but not an actively watching boogie man.
What’s your favorite song on Assassins In the House of God?
"Gloried in Deceit"
Into the Killing Fields (2010)
Into the Killing Fields was ultimately released by Victory Records in 2010, but All Out War had left the label before that, right?
At this point we had been trying to get off of Victory for years. It was obvious they didn't want us and we felt we needed a new start somewhere else. There was a press release that said we were dropped and we got really excited. Assassins wasn't pushed at all and we thought we would fair better on a more metal label. Just when other labels started to show interest, we suddenly were not dropped from Victory.
By this album, it seems like you guys had a pretty consistent recording team in place with the folks at Big Blue Meenie studios in New Jersey. Tell me about working there and why it worked so well for All Out War.
We started working with Big Blue Meanie with Condemned to Suffer. Tim Gilles is a great guy and we really enjoyed recording at his place. Everything worked out really well there. It was only a little over an hour for us so we could work on weekends and then come down after work on the weekdays. Tim understood we all had full-time jobs and couldn't record on a schedule that professional bands could. We had to do weird hours to get it done. The studio sounded killer and it was a pleasure to work with the staff.
Like you mentioned before, though you returned to Victory for Into the Killing Fields, it proved to be the final release with the label. It’s impossible for me to think of All Out War without also thinking of Victory Records. What’s your take on all those years working with them? Do you have any regrets? I wonder how it might have moved the needle for the band if you had been on a metal label like Century Media or Nuclear Blast.
It's all water under the bridge at this point. Being on Victory opened some doors for us and allowed us to do some really incredible things. We had some really cool times with the people from Victory and made a lifelong friend in Clint. In the end, I think both parties could have handled things differently and it would have been mutually beneficial. I have no time for regrets, but I think we all have those "what if" moments. Especially if we would have went with a more metal label.
What’s your favorite song on Into the Killing Fields?
Give Us Extinction (2017)
So, we’re finally at Give Us Extinction, a terribly overlooked album, in my opinion. Dare I say that it might be All Out War’s angriest collection of songs? Even the way the record starts out with the title track, which is this churning, creeped-out kind of thing, is pure evil. What was your mindset going into the writing and recording of that album?
Going into writing Give Us Extinction, we had no real plan of direction. Being in a band that has no desire to land a tour, appeal to any one specific heavy music genre, and no expectations is really liberating. We just got together and wrote the music we like to listen to to and this is what came out. The album was written during the campaigning for the 2016 election and I think a lot of our disgust for that whole charade came out in the music, especially the lyrics.
The album was released by Organized Crime Records, the label owned by the aforementioned Clint Billington.
We've known Clint since 1997. He has always been a good friend. Organized Crime first put out the Dying Gods EP, so it just made sense to do the album with him.
Emily Muscara's vocal contributions to the album are stellar. Having her punk-leaning vocal approach counteract with your more gruff style is a potent touch.
Yes, Emily did a fantastic job and really added to the recording. [All Out War guitarist] Taras [Apuzzo] also plays in Straphangers, so there is our connection to Emily. Brittany (Straphanger guitarist) sings on the Dying Gods EP.
What’s the story behind the album’s cover art? That one is my all-time favorite All Out War record sleeve.
Alexandre Goulet did the art for both Dying Gods and Give Us Extinction. He is amazing. Basically, we give Alexandre the song titles and general lyrical themes and he comes up with the art. It's been a real pleasure to work with Alexandre and can't wait to work together on the next one.
What’s your favorite song on Give Us Extinction?
Finally, the million-dollar question: Is All Out War a metal band playing hardcore or a hardcore band playing metal?
Good question. Probably depends on who you ask. I would say we are a metal band who has close ties to the hardcore scene.